In the wake of widespread concerns over accessibility on campus — including the raging debate over paving Middle Path — Campus Senate is developing a set of guidelines that will lay out the College’s accessibility practices.
“We’re working on basically a statement of principles for accessibility on campus,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 said. “It’s still very much in the formative stages, so we haven’t gotten too far on it yet, but President Decatur has asked Campus Senate to take up this initiative for this year.”
Decatur asked the Senate to overtake the initiative after realizing that, while there has been much discussion about improving the College’s accessibility, little has been done to define what accessibility actually means.
Demands from students, staff and faculty for greater accessibility on campus — especially for those suffering from physical disabilities — have escalated in recent years. While much of these demands concern outdated and inaccessible academic buildings, some of which date back over 100 years, many of them center around the inaccessibility of Middle Path.
“As it stands, Middle Path is a huge barrier in the way of our commitment to inclusion,” Chloe Hannah-Drullard ’20 wrote in an opinion piece published in the Collegian this semester. “Inclusivity means equal access to that which we consider normal, like the centralized pathway to classes used by every student, faculty and community staff member. Inclusivity means accessibility and, in this case, accessibility means paving.”
Decatur agreed; he stressed a big-picture mentality that takes into account the College’s long-term accessibility goals. “Beginning to define some of those principles [is] important if we think about things like accessible teaching spaces,” he said. “Similarly, it’s a set of guidelines and principles that I hope [will] also help us to navigate issues like Middle Path and other [accessibility concerns].”
According to Decatur, redesigning inaccessible academic buildings would be a major factor in increasing the College’s accessibility. This could be anything from repurposing them for communal use or as study spaces to renovating them to increase their overall accessibility.
Along these lines, Decatur said that the West Quad project, which will house several academic departments, will free up several outdated buildings, giving the College time to get a start on achieving its accessibility goals. One such goal is an update of Ascension Hall, which is one of the least accessible buildings. The building has no elevators, and many of its stairways and passageways are narrow and difficult for those with physical disabilities to navigate.
Bonham said that the set of guidelines will not be directive; that is, it will provide a framework which individual academic departments (and administrative offices) can use as a base for their own accessibility policies, but its enforcement will be left to the discretion of the specific offices.
She also noted that, while the Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS) has parameters guiding how individuals with disabilities are treated on campus, she is currently unaware of any specific accessibility policy used by the College as a whole. In this way, the Campus Senate’s accessibility guidelines will fill a much-needed function on campus.